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The flaw in the food system: Are Canadians ready for the consequences of paying farm workers more?

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“A perfect system is one where everyone in the country has full and permanent immigration status,” Hussan said. “That doesn’t mean they have to stay, but permanent residency is the mechanism through which you get your rights.”

The federal government has pledged $58.6 million toward “strengthening” the Temporary Foreign Worker program, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office said in a statement on Friday.

The office also noted the government has since last summer allowed workers who are being mistreated to apply for an open permit, rather than an employer-specific permit, so they can apply to other jobs in Canada.

A perfect system is one where everyone in the country has full and permanent immigration status

Syed Hussan

“Their current employer will be investigated, subject to fines, banned from hiring foreign workers and/or face a possible criminal investigation,” the minister’s spokesperson Marielle Hossack said in an email. “As the Prime Minister said, we need to reimagine our Temporary Foreign Worker program and how we can better protect workers.”

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council said 59,500 of the 227,194 employees on farms were temporary foreign workers in 2017 — the last year data was available — up from 43,500 in 2014.

Even with that infusion, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture reported in 2017 that roughly 16,500 farm jobs were left vacant, potentially representing $2.5 billion in lost sales.

“Nobody wants to do that work in those conditions and for those wages, including migrants. That’s why they’re organizing,” Hussan said. “Look, our entire position is that we don’t want an immigration system that has temporary labour.”

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